Kolkata, Aug 27 (IANS) The organisers of community Durga Puja committees in West Bengal might be rejoicing over the announcement this week by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to enhance the annual dole from the state government by Rs 10,000 to Rs 70,000 for each of these committees.
This year, the Chief Minister also announced that these communities will be entitled for state government advertisements from the departments of commerce and industries, as well as tourism, at attractive rates besides the regular subsidy on electricity bills.
According to initial estimates calculated by the state Finance Department, the total outflow in this entire dole package will be to the tune of Rs 350 crore.
“Out of which Rs 280 crore will be straightaway for the dole payment at the rate of Rs 70,000 to 40,000 puja committees, out of which around 3,000 are in Kolkata and the remaining are in the districts. We have estimated another outflow of Rs 70 crore on account of government advertisements and electricity subsidy, which can be even more,” said a Finance Department official.
Now questions are being raised about the justification of bearing such a huge expenditure of Rs 350 crore, which is around 57 per cent of the total cost of Chandrayaan-3 expedition at Rs 615 crore.
The Chief Minister, however, has her own logic to justify the whopping donation.
“Durga Puja is not just a festival. It is also a huge business opportunity providing income to lakhs of people directly or indirectly associated with the festival. A huge market of around Rs 60,000 crore is being created over this festival every year,” she has said.
BJP councillor in Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) Sajal Ghosh, who is also a principal organiser of the famous Santosh Mitra Square Puja committee, said that like the last two years they will not be accepting the dole from the state government this year as well.
“Pujas have been organised with lots of pomp and grandeur even before this dole was introduced. So it will happen this year as well. But we do not want to be party in this utter wastage of money from the state exchequer and that too at a time when the state government are not being able to meet essential expenditure for development or go for recruitment for the vacant post or pay enhanced darkness allowances to the state government employees giving the excuse of lack of funds,” Ghosh said.
BJP legislator Shankar Ghosh pointed that while the Trinamool Congress MLA Idris Ali has given a public statement calling the expenditure behind Chandrayaan-3 as wasteful, the supremo of the party he represents is draining out tax payers’ money with the narrow political motive to keep those associated with the Puja committees in confidence.
“When a frog residing in a whale considers that abode as an ocean, such mindless actions take place,” he said.
However, an office bearer of the Swabhumi Durga Puja committee in the northern outskirts of Kolkata, which enjoys the patronage of the state fire services minister Sujit Basu, said that they view this donation from the state government as an honour for them.
“It is true that the amount offered as donation is a paltry amount for bug-budget pujas where the total budget exceeds a crore of rupees. But still we accept it as an honour and respect the chief minister’s sincere attempts to associate the state government with the biggest festival of Bengal. It is useless to find faults behind every decision of the government,” he said.
Economist P.K. Mukhopadhyay pointed out that there were several cautions from the expert circles that the state government should concentrate more on asset-creating capital expenditure and simultaneously reduce avoidable revenue expenditure.
“Even the latest report of the Comptroller and Auditor General has given an adverse report on this count where it has also been pointed out that there had been misclassification of revenue transactions under the capital section to project a lower revenue deficit. But from the state government’s continuing spending spree behind avoidable revenue expenses like such donations it is evident that these cautions have fallen in deaf ears,” he said.